Absolute Monarchy and the Stuart Constitution

Burgess, Glenn
Date published: 
January 1996

In this ambitious reinterpretation of the early Stuart period in England, Glenn Burgess contends that the common understanding of seventeenth-century English politics is oversimplified and inaccurate. The long-accepted standard view holds that gradual polarisation between the Court and Parliament during the reigns of James I and Charles I reflected the split between absolutists - who upheld the divine right of monarchy to rule - and constitutionalists - who resisted tyranny by insisting the monarch was subject to law - and resulted inevitably in civil war. Yet, Burgess argues, the very terms that have been used to understand the period are misleading: there were almost no genuine absolutist thinkers in England before the Civil War, and the 'constitutionalism' of common lawyers and parliamentarians was a very different notion from current understandings of that term.